On Wednesday, the Syracuse Orange hired a new athletic director: former ESPN exec and Syracuse grad John Wildhack. Syracuse.com's Chris Carlson did a Q&A with Wildhack, so let's take a look at what we've learned about him so far:
He really is a "SU guy."
"The only place I would leave ESPN for is Syracuse."
I mean, sheesh, he rattled off a list of family members that have attended Syracuse, saying that it's "part of the Wildhack DNA." His brother lives in Syracuse and they've got a place on Sodus Bay, which is roughly a one hour drive northwest of campus. Wildhack repeated multiple times that he was only leaving ESPN for Syracuse. A lot of fans were looking for a Syracuse guy after the departure of Mark Coyle, and that's exactly what we've got with Wildhack.
He's not going to rush into a complete takeover.
"It's important for the staff to meet me, and for me to meet them, and understand my philosophies and learn from them and get a good sense of what's in place. What do we do extraordinarily well? What are the opportunities? How do we realize the opportunities?"
Wildhack is going to take his time to learn the in's and out's of the program. To me, this is indicative of him being in it for the long haul. It seems as though John's first priority is in building relationships, rather than coming in and removing a bunch of old staff. He's already focused on one of the most important relationships he'll have at SU: the one with Dino Babers (who was also on the hiring committee).
There won't be a phone call straight to ESPN about the ACC Network, unless...
"I see myself getting as involved as warranted. I think any official statements should come from (ACC commissioner) John Swofford. But when appropriate, I look forward to getting involved in those discussions."
The ESPN connection is a great benefit for Syracuse, because television rights deals are one of the biggest money makers in all of college sports. It is not difficult to see the benefit of having Wildhack on our side during the ongoing discussion between ESPN and the ACC on the potential ACC Network. It seems he wants to try and stay out of it, but isn't opposed to getting involved when necessary. I think his presence at SU is going to help seal the deal on the potential network, even if he isn't directly involved.
He's going to use his management experience to make up for the lack of experience in an athletic department.
"I'm confident my experience is transferable. At the same time, there's a great staff in place and I will lean on them. I will ask and be curious and I will work with them to discover ways we can be more creative and build on our success."
The biggest initial concern about the announcement was that Wildhack hasn't worked in an athletic department. But the more we learn about him, the less concerns there are (as far as I'm concerned, anyway). ESPN and the Syracuse University Athletic Department are both businesses at the end of the day. The skill set carries over and he'll have a staff to support him. As long as he's able to use and build his staff the right way, this won't be an issue.
We're not talking Jim Boeheim's retirement with him right now.
"We're on the phone a few times a year. We play golf once a year or so. It's not frequently, but I've known Jim a long time. My dad grew up in Newark about six miles down Route 31. Jim played golf at Sodus Bay as a kid. We're members now. In some ways we have similar backgrounds."
Jim and John (sounds like a sitcom name, doesn't it? Or a sandwich shop.... oh wait) are already on a first name basis, which is a great thing. It's not often your newly hired athletic director already has a friendship with your high-profile head coach. John stood by what Jim said about his retirement last year, which was that he had three seasons left at Syracuse. We'll see if that's what actually happens.
We'll find out more about Wildhack when he is formally introduced to the Syracuse community on Tuesday, July 12.